I was with one of my dear 82 year old clients yesterday when I heard her use a word I hadn’t heard anyone use since my Mom passed away. As she was fumbling through her files looking for something she said, “fiddlesticks!” It made me smile to hear that word again, and it also got me to thinking about several odd words and phrases that Mom used that I seldom hear from anyone else. Here are just a few:
John Brown. This all-purpose word appeared often in Mom’s vocabulary. She used it as an adjective as in, “I’ll be John Brown!” I took this to mean that she was either surprised or agitated. She would also use it as a substitute curse word as in, “If you kids think you’re gonna sleep until noon on a Saturday, you’ve got another John Brown think coming!” When I was little, I had no idea who or what a John Brown was. When I learned in school about the wild abolitionist and slave rebelling instigator John Brown, Mom’s use of the term gained her considerable street cred with me. Who was this white, southern woman using John Brown’s name as a slang term??
Draw back a nub. “If you try to steal a roll from this basket, you’re gonna draw back a nub!” Although I knew she wasn’t violent enough to make good on such a claim, still there was something about the way she said it that made you think twice.
I swannee. Clearly, this word served as some sort of milder, more Christian alternative to the conventional I swear.
Phooey. At times of great or even minor frustration, Mom would let loose with Phooey! Lately, Pam has taken this word up to my great delight.
I declare. Sometimes this came out as “I do declare,” or even better, “I declare honestly.” Whenever I heard the phrase, I knew that something truly profound was about to come flying out of my mother’s mouth, and I better pay attention.
Whether these expressions were used in isolation or on those rare occasions when several of them would appear in the same excited sentence, they communicated very specific moods. And although none of us kids knew exactly what they meant, they always made us perk up. Whenever you heard something like this:
“I declare honestly, if you kids don’t get out of my hair, all of you are gonna draw back some John Brown nubs!”…you knew it was time to back off.
I would give anything to be able to get her all riled up so I could hear them again.